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Interview: Roman Birg, Lead Developer of the Android Open Kang Project

Owners of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus have surely heard the name Android Open Kang Project (AOKP). It is undoubtedly one of the most, if not thee most commonly used custom ROM available for select devices. I have had the opportunity to have a quick session with lead developer Roman Birg of AOKP and ask him some questions to get inside the mind of one of today’s top developers.  

DL: So, Roman. What started your work on the AOKP?

Roman: One day on twitter, b16 said he had a few extra Galaxy Nexus devices he was selling for a lot cheaper than stock, so I jumped on it. I’ve been doing ROMs for a little over a year now and I was eager to play with AOSP again, so I jumped on the offer, quick. A couple days after I got it, I released AOKP build 1, and I sort of add features around what I want personally, and AOSP just didn’t do it, so I just started adding things as I saw fit and it just sort of went from there…

DL: What’s your background in development in general? Do you have proper schooling in that or are you all self-taught? It seems like a lot of the Android devs out there these days pumping out ROMs have all just picked up their skills from fellow developers.

Roman: I’m a Computer Science major at college (and they teach Java), but I don’t think any college courses helped me with Android, maybe with a little bit of Java coding, but Android is just so much more than that.

DL: So what got you into Android development in the first place?

Roman: After I got a Samsung Vibrant, I was just flashing everything I could for a couple months. After a while, I wasn’t satisfied with something a ROM developer had done and I wanted to change it to how it was before. it just snow balled from there – I started doing a little theming. Then I started smali hacking and adding new features.

DL: So your first Android device was the Vibrant?

Roman: Yes and no, I found a G1 for like $90 on eBay a few months prior to getting my Vibrant. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even have the G1 24 hours before rooting and putting CyanogenMod on it.

DL: Nice – So do you also work full time alongside development on Android or have you made Android your full time? It seems you put so much work into AOKP that you wouldn’t have time for anything else.

Roman: Actually, I’m a full time student at college, and I was working 20 hours a week until about a week ago.

DL: What were you doing for work? Anything exciting?

Roman: I was working for a network research lab at school. It’s not as exciting as Android.

DL: What do you see in the future for your work on Android? Any goals you have set for yourself?

Roman: Ideally, I’d love to make ROMs as a job, but unfortunately, that doesn’t pay nearly enough to sustain anyone. However! Very soon, I’ll be starting to develop Android Apps. I could definitely see myself doing that in the future. Hopefully I have some success doing that.

DL: So, what types of apps are looking to make?

Roman: I’ve actually started working on my first app just yesterday. I’m working closely with the guys at RootzWiki to bring something (hopefully) awesome for all ROM fiends. It’s tentatively named RootzBox.

DL: Hmm, RootzBox? Can you give us a little hint as to what the app’s purpose is?

Roman: It’s still early in it’s planning and development, but the idea is to make everything related to ROMs easier on the user. We’ve got some nice features planned that will make the app unique and Rootz-worthy .

DL: Nice, be sure to keep us posted on that. So what do you think it is that has made AOKP so tremendously popular among users? Did you plan on creating a ROM that would make people even put CyanogenMod in the backseat for a bit?

Roman: Honestly, I had no idea it would get as big as it has. I do this all for fun, so I was just doing whatever — adding a feature here and there, whatever I felt like doing at the time. Ever since I started playing with ROMs, I’ve always been about options and user-choice. So after a while, I had a toggle for this and I had a toggle for that. People are able customize their phone and make it feel different than others. Furthermore, the community involvement has just been amazing, which is more than any ROM dev could want. People submit code to add a feature, or maybe improve on a feature that’s already been added. AOKP would be nothing without those who’ve contributed (Zaphod-Beeble, Whitehawkx, sethyx, Khas-Mek, and ProTekk just to name a few).

And on the subject of CyanogenMod – I just want to point out that I’m not in any way trying to compete with them. While AOKP is made from pure AOSP, we wouldn’t be able to get AOKP on any phone that’s not supported by AOSP without CyanogenMod and all of the people who contribute to it.

DL: So right off the top of your head, what types of features are you hoping to bring to future versions of AOKP? Anything you want to do but don’t have the ability, or means to quite yet? Anything like that on your mind lately?

Roman: I would love to be able to add a theme manager (like the T-Mobile one that CM7 had), but I don’t know nearly enough to accomplish something like that. More realistically, I think we’d be able to add a way for the user to change the color scheme of the whole ROM. Right now you can change the color of your clock, signal text, and a few other things, but I’d love to let the user be able to pick a color, and their whole phone be in that color.

DL: That’s something everyone has been hoping for. Okay, so I have to ask – What’s the deal with the pink unicorns?

Roman: Whitehawkx and I have a T-Mo SGS2 ROM and it has ROM Control kind of like AOKP, but it’s much more limited since we’re smali-hacking all the features in. Anyways, one day we were just joking around and thought it’d be really awesome to make pink unicorn our ‘logo.’ Before we know it, one of our friends, kwes, makes us a unicorn logo and Rascarlo makes us that boot animation. And it just stuck.

DL: Just last night I went to apply my favorite live wallpaper Phase Beam and noticed it had been replaced by cute pink unicorn heads dancing on my screen. Fabulous!

Roman: That was actually a user-contribution! We all loved it when we saw it, there’s no way I couldn’t not include it. It’s definitely fabulous.

DL: Awesome. Well to wrap it up, is there anything else you want to say to the community, users, fellow devs or anything?

Roman: We’re all here to learn and make our devices better. Users: don’t be afraid to ask questions and be as nice as you can to other users (I remember when I was deathly afraid of posting in fear of being scowled for asking something that was answered 10,000 pages back). Developers: open source is what drives this community, keep it that way.

DL: Excellent, thanks for talking with us!

Roman: May the kang be with you.

If you want to learn more about the AOKP or give it a go on your device, you can find downloads and all the info you will ever need over the AOKP site. Interested in reading other developer interviews we have held? Then you can search through here and find them all.

  • asaness

    May the KANG be with you!

    Nice outro!

  • robotsforeveryone

    Pink Unicorn eh? Reminds me of something else…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn

  • Shane McKeever

    Anyone have a custom kernel recommendation for Kang #25? Battery life help needed.

    • Kameleongt

      I’m on IMO 2.2.0 just flashed this I had best results on 1.9-1.10 with interactive X I could go all day easy mainly wifi though. And by all day I mean unplug at 7 in the morning and plug in when I go to sleep

    • IshiKen

      Set your CPU min to the lowest it can go, pick the max you feel comfortable with and set your CPU Governor to ONDEMAND. It’ll coast at the lowest speed when you aren’t really doing anything and it will blaze up to the max set when you are playing intensive games or buffering through HD videos. My Galaxy Tab 10.1 is set Min 214MHz, Max 1.4GHz and with ONDEMAND, I can get about 2 days of use without having to plug in until the I go to bed on the second night.

  • http://www.twitter.com/nblufire12 Nathan Patel

    What a guy. Well done and thanks for powering my GNex and HP Touchpad.

  • CyDetrakD

    Aokp is the main reason of owning a Galaxy Nexus I used to be all about some Cm but haven’t looked back since January. Great work Roman and nice interview.

  • ajavgeek

    I am not sure if anyone else noticed but my battery life is noticeably more than stock version. My favorite ROM on GNex….

    Thanks for your work, 

  • http://twitter.com/zk0sn1 Nee Austin

    I’d like to see an exposé on the differences between the one guy producing custom ROMs versus the (presumably) one guy updating all the phone models at Motorola, HTC, and Samsung.  Why is the custom guy so much faster than the corporate guy?    Enquiring minds want to know.

  • Chucklehead

    My favorite part of the article:

    Users: don’t be afraid to ask questions and be as nice as you can to other users (I remember when I was deathly afraid of posting in fear of being scowled for asking something that was answered 10,000 pages back). Developers: open source is what drives this community, keep it that way. 

  • jjjjjggggghhhh

     http://lnk.co/IHOTL

  • Dirty Dan

    Why are these devs not building their releases based on the leaked 4.04 version of Android?  I ask because I don’t know, but suspect there must be a reason,.,..

    • http://twitter.com/tadejkolino Tadej Rudec

      Because there is no 4.0.4 source

  • longnian69
  • Shamar Marshall

    Great article!! i waited about 3 weeks to put a rom on when i got my GNex, and i had no doubt i was going with AOKP. Havent looked back since!! Keep em comin Roman!! The builds look exciting, and i can’t wait for Milestone 4!

  • http://www.thecarners.com Matt R Carner

    I really wanted to like AOKP, but I had trouble with it on two different GNexs (mine and my wife’s).  The issues were completely different on each handset and bad enough that they couldn’t be daily drivers. 

    We’re both on Bugless Beast now and couldn’t be happier.  Truly bugless.  Wish I could have said that for AOKP.

    Oh and the childish crap from ProTekk on twitter really turns me off of the AOKP project as well.  He’s a douche bag.

    • http://twitter.com/romanbb Roman Birg

      Can you tell me more about the issues you’ve had? I’m sure more have had it but have not spoken up.

      • http://www.thecarners.com Matt R Carner

        Thanks for the reply Roman.  

        GNex 1 (mine) – Lots of random reboots.  One time, reboot got stuck on pink unicorn and required battery pull (waited about 20 minutes).  Sometimes when selecting the stock SMS app, other apps would open instead.  

        GNex 2 (wife’s) – main issue was during voice calls, the screen would start to flicker and then the far end could not hear her anymore, even though the call stayed connected.  This was a recurring issue and she is on conference calls for work every morning.  She struggled through it for a week before I got enough time to back everything up and pick a different ROM for her.  

        Both devices were running Milestone 3 with included Kernal and no other mods.  I know that reporting issues like this doesn’t help you without logs and such, but I don’t have any.  Probably the reason I didn’t report them on Rootzwiki.  I love using ROMs but I don’t have the time to track my experienced bugs and report them properly.  

        Great work by the way!  There were several features of AOKP that I truly miss on Bugless Beast, but we’ve both been running very solid now for two weeks without any issues.  My wife I won’t mess with much anymore.  Considering flashing her back to complete stock when VZW releases 4.0.4 and above.  

        I’m currently keeping track of AOKP and a few other ROMs to try on my GNex again when I get bored of Bugless Beast.

        Take care,

        Matt

        • gardobus

          I started using AOKP at the build before M4 and never had any of these problems.  We are now on build 28 (which came after M4) so there have been quite a few updates since M3.  I’d give it another go, it has been flawless on my GNex.

  • http://www.getintonursing.com/ Jon

    im running AOKP on my Droid Bionic as of this afternoon. First rom to get the camera working in ICS on bionic. So now the ICS for Bionic is pretty much feature complete with 4G and camera. the front facing camera still is not working though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/2cheezy4u Eric Chee

      NO WAY!?!?! Link me pleasee!!!! xda? rootzwiki? droid forums haha sorry but i hella want!

      • http://www.getintonursing.com/ Jon

        http://rootzwiki.com/forum/264-th3oryrom/
        That’s where you will find all of the ICS roms for Droid Bionic. There’s a growing number of them. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/2cheezy4u Eric Chee

          thank you so much! ICS on our bionics! so pumped right now

  • http://twitter.com/ChrisCorp ChristopherCorpening

    I love me some AOKP on my GNex! 

  • Cuff Him Banano

    “What’s the deal with pink unicorns?” pink unicorns rock. Duh.

  • jbonics

    no one has a cpu slider in the pulldown bar like me yet….what change govenors too…. maby soon …..

  • Shane A Martinez

    “We spend countless of hours doing this for next to nothing. Posts, views, and donations encourage me, and everyone else who helps out.” “Every donation is cherished and loved.” Roman on OP of AOKP build 25.

    This is as close as you can get to asking for a donation, without, ‘asking’.

    • http://twitter.com/romanbb Roman Birg

      Does this offend you?

      • fartbubbler

        I just donated to you for all you do.   And to spite Shane A Martinez  :)

        • Shane A Martinez

          This was in response to someone claiming that Roman doesn’t ask for donations. I personally run AOKP and have donated myself. Does Roman deserve it? Yes. I think you all took my post as being negative. Which I did not intend.

          • fartbubbler

            my apologies, I misunderstood  :)

      • http://www.getintonursing.com/ Jon

        Ignore the aholes Roman. Thanks for your work and the work of everyone on AOKP. 

    • http://twitter.com/ArtVandelay440 Art Vandelay

      And why shouldn’t he exactly??

    • KevinC

      Nothing at all wrong with this.  Developers spend a lot of time putting together these ROMs so people like you can enjoy them for free.  If you end up using it as your daily driver, the least you could do is throw a few bucks the ROM developer’s way.

    • TC Infantino

      One of the things I have really noticed lately on many different forums is that a growing number of people seem to feel entitled to have anything they want either given to them or have it cost very little.  If you don’t think his ROM is good enough for you to give a few bucks to help him keep working on it, then STFU and go ahead and remove it from your device.  I get tired of whinny little bi#%hes complaining that they have to pay for something or that it is too much and should be free/cheaper.

  • Tim242

    AOKP is great! I can’t wait to get some Lang apps!

  • Christopher Riner

    Roman– one word (ok well I’m gonna make it two):  Boom, shakalaka.  Thanks for making my phone the coolest thing in the redneck part of virginia

  • Pmagent2013

    I think you should try to do another interview with fede of launcherpro, maybe it could get him to come out of hiding. Lol

    • KleenDroid

      I’ve been holding my breath for his fresh app re-write but I am going to have to come up for air soon. 

      • Pmagent2013

        I know what you mean, I go to his website now and then but its not often there is anything important there. :-(

        • Chris

          I remember when ubermusic was still in beta I visited his site very day some times twice in a day just to see if a new beta was released, plain and simple the man makes great apps 
          I just wish he kept making them 

  • Droidzilla

    Anyone running the KANG of this on their RAZR have anything good to say about it? I honestly haven’t felt the need to even root my RAZR thus far (thanks, FoxFi!), but I would like to try some of that delicious Ice Cream Sammich.

  • terryharrison

    Great Job Roman! Best ROM ever. 

  • Enfpruiz21

    I like all the features AOKP brings, but I found its performance lacking in comparison to many other ROMs I have used. Good interview though. Seems like a cool guy and more development is always welcome.

  • http://twitter.com/NovembersDirge The Observer

    AOKP is definitely my favorite ROM for my GNex.

  • Winston Lane

    Roman and his team are so awesome and def a class act! Keep up the good work, and this happens to be the realest quote… “We’re all here to learn and make our devices better. Users: don’t be afraid to ask questions and be as nice as you can to other users (I remember when I was deathly afraid of posting in fear of being scowled for asking something that was answered 10,000 pages back). Developers: open source is what drives this community, keep it that way.”! 

    Great interview 

  • Michael_NM

    Tato: Thanks for bringing back the interviews.
    Roman: Thanks for the insight and awesome work.
    Android: Thanks for being open.

  • Thatton8769

    Awesome article! Best ROM I’ve ever ran on any Android device by far!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500698751 Paul Hansen

    This project is amazing and has brought a nearly complete version of ICS to the RAZR. Thanks to the development team working on this.

    • http://twitter.com/JD317 Julio Duverney

      that’s actually a KANG of AOKP lol. not an officially supported device but yes, you should still thank them :) 

      • Droidzilla

        DroidTh30ry actually directs people to thank the AOKP team for the kang that’s on the RAZR. It’s a pretty cool dev community we have out there.

  • cantcurecancer

    Roman’s a class-act, gotta love him. He deserves more press, unlike that other dev-thief (cough codenameandroid), who is a copy and paste dev.

    • DroidzFX

      AOKP. kang is in the name….

      So whats wrong if someone kangs your stuff?

      Nothing against AOKP but CND actually runs better on my phone.

      • Michael Forte

        Same here. I like CND.

        • Christopher Riner

          who needs the auto brightness with roman’s sweet brightness bar in the notifications?  Codename prolly has that too, now, but I jumped on aokp after like cd 1.2 and haven’t looked back.. Hell, even on my boot manager I have aokp builds 21, and then a 24 and a 25, plus a milestone 3… and then darkside. Ah yes, plus my newly acquired cm9, which hasn’t gotten too much love from me today.  (love meaning use- can’t wait to see what keeps coming, though.)

      • http://twitter.com/JD317 Julio Duverney

        just don’t forget that without AOKP, there would be no CND

        • KleenDroid

          But the strange thing is that I prefer codenameandroid as my rom of choice. On my phone it seems to function better. I’ve been on them all but I seem to go back. 

          • http://twitter.com/romanbb Roman Birg

            Care to share what “seems to function better” means? I honestly want to know what bad experiences people are having with AOKP and how I can improve it.

          • KleenDroid

            I by no means was saying I had a bad experience with AOKP. AOKP is great! But I also think I should answer your question as to why I prefer one over the other. It has nothing to do with features since CND has probably taken all the features of AOKP.. :)  But the things that make me like a rom over another a subtle things like the sensitivity and responsiveness of the keyboard while typing. Or the whole experience of typing responses in the message boards and the way it all works together and flows. Sensitivity of screen touch, keyboard sensitivity and responsiveness and scrolling are big deciders for me. I also would imagine there would be those that would say they have tried both and do not agree with me but I guess every phone is different and why choice is a good thing. My last phone was a Thunderbolt and many felt the phone sucked while I had a great experience and loved it. Thank you very much for all your hard work. In my opinion AOKP helps lead the way and continues to push development for the Nexus. Thanks again for the great work and please don’t think I meant anything negative about AOKP.  

        • Bemegadroid

          and dont forget, without CyanogenMod and all of the other roms that AOKP gets most of its features from. lol if you do your research a lot of features in MOST roms have been just a tad re-written so the dev feels ok calling it “their own”. no rom exists on its own or is truly all original. I like CNA because he makes no bones about the features that he uses and actually does what most developers dont. He gives soo much credit on changelogs to the ones of the features that he adds in people dont actually realize how much work that he does getting the stuff together.

      • Noble Four

        Kang is in the name, and the ROM is open source so everyone has the right to manipulate it how they want. However, even though Kang is in the name, that is more of a joke than anything. Roman and his team have a lot of unique tweaks that they made and implemented. People give Codename a bad rap because if you look at his change log, there is rarely code or a feature being implemented that he wrote. He gives credit to everyone he uses code from. But the thing is, seemingly little is done aside from taking other people’s changes and merging them. Which is fine, that is what AOSP is about. It’s just not original by any means. Roman is pushing the envelope, and he and his team are doing outstanding work. And that is the difference. The AOKP team is figuring out how to do new things. Codename is figuring out how to mash those new things together.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=541445706 Matthew Wahlquist

          Credit to Roman and his team for some good stuff, but let’s not forget where AOKP was kanged from … Pete’s Bugless Beast – still the cleanest code ever (just been busy with college)
           
          https://github.com/peteralfonso/platform_vendor_pete/network

          • http://twitter.com/romanbb Roman Birg

            The vendor folder that I originally forked from Pete to use with AOKP was just responsible for building gapps into the ROM…. not sure if that qualifies as a whole ROM being kanged =D

            If you compare the vendor folders now, they are completely different, AOKP now uses the “standard” gapps package, and I believe Pete still uses his style of integrating them. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=541445706 Matthew Wahlquist

            Yes sir. and to add… you haven’t touched his source since mid december… you certainly get much credit for what you have done. I am just a long standing fan of pete code. There is a lot of garbage out there, just haven’t given yours a try yet. Do you publish your source/changelog?

          • http://twitter.com/romanbb Roman Birg

            Yes and yes. http://www.github.com/aokp and all changelogs published on http://www.aokp.co

      • cantcurecancer

        It’s not the kanging that bothers me, it’s the fact that he’s asking (and getting) donations from all his “hard work”.

        • mustbepbs

          Not sure if serious? Are you talking about Roman when you say “hard work”? Because if you are, he puts in some very hard work. You’d be hard pressed to find a ROM that doesn’t have a lot of his features credited in the credit section.

          And asking for donations? I’ve never ever seen him ask for anything. Not sure where you’re getting your facts from. He even purchased his own device, which is a lot more than a lot of devs can say with their “Phone donation”.

          It’s people like you that drive talent away with your head up your *** spouting verbal diarrhea like you know what you’re talking about. And this isn’t the first time I’ve seen you run your mouth either. 

          • http://quiklives.tumblr.com quiklives

            He’s not talking about Roman. Read it again from the beginning of the thread.

          • mustbepbs

            The way I read it was that he was replying to DroidzFX about the “kang” in AOKP.

            Trying to read it the other way just doesn’t make sense.

          • http://quiklives.tumblr.com quiklives

            It does to me – he made the initial comment about the CND guy not having put the work in, but just using other people’s stuff. That’s who he’s annoyed with, so odds are that’s still who he’s talking about in the second comment. 

            I’m sorry, I’ve just realized I’m arguing on the internet again. Truth is I don’t care that much, I was just trying to explain that you were all upset over a misunderstanding. If being angry and argumentative makes you happy, have at it. 

          • Kline

            it worked for mark zuckerberg, lolz

          • Sprint Rep

            he originally said codenameandroid is a dev-thief and copy & pastes s**t and then said its not the copying that bothered him, it was the fact he asked for (and received) donations for his work.

            you freaked out over nothing haha while commenting on some article on the internet

    • Soapinmouth

      Your delusional if you think building a rom like cnd is as easy as copy paste. Not saying Roman doesn’t do alot more, but saying it’s easy Is just silly. There’s one feature on cnd that won’t let me go to liquid(just as much a kang) or aokp, and it’s the toggles, I wish I could have the simple minimalistic ones from cnd. The alternative and stock toggles on aokp ate fugly imo.

      • mendy817

        not sure about AOKP, but you can do that in liquid. its in the notification settings

      • Navjot94

        they’re just the toggles from CM